Even though it’s about a year old, recently a post over at The Shadows of Arden started appearing in my Facebook feed, so I thought I’d take a peek and see what was up. The post’s title, Tools of the Craft: The Gods don’t shop at Hobby Lobby, certainly got my attention, because coincidentally, I don’t shop there either.
At any rate, most of the discussions I saw about this post were of the “Neither do I!” variety, which is perfectly okay, because like I said, I don’t patronize Hobby Lobby for a couple of reasons myself. First of all, they’re closed on Sundays, which is the only time I really have time to shop for craft supplies anyway, but more importantly, they’re also big-time evangelical Christian dominionists who got involved an equally big-time lawsuit (based on Really Bad Science) when they didn’t want to allow employees to get their Whore Pills while on the company insurance plan because abortion/sluts/Jesus/whatever. But I digress.
However, the Shadows of Arden post isn’t really so much about Hobby Lobby per se, but about people who are eagerly scooping up potential ritual tools at big box discount chains, using them in Craft workings, and generally moving away from the notion that magical tools are uniquely personal. Instead, we’re part of a community in which our magical tools are often mass produced, typically overseas, and made of plastic and resin – that’s the gist of Silas’ original post.
And to some extent, he’s kind of correct. Would we all love to use natural items in our practice, like stones and bones harvested in the wild, or yarn lovingly hand spun from the wool of an organically raised alpaca by isolated priestesses? Sure. That would be great. I’d also like to build a forge and learn how to blacksmith my own nails and tools, I’d love to go out a-gathering crystals straight from the damp soil of mother earth herself, and if I wasn’t sort of allergic to bees I’d maybe have some hives and gather up the wax to make my own candles from scratch, because none of those things take time or money or anything.
But when I first started out as a Baby Pagan three decades ago, the Internet was without form and void, and there weren’t any Olde Witchy Shoppes in my city. However, there was certainly a Walmart that had some cool-as-farq witchy decor every fall, and I think I had a mail-order catalog from some store that sold crystals and pentacle jewelry, and I certainly bought candles by the bazillion at craft stores (I don’t recall seeing a Hobby Lobby then, but I’m sure there was Michael’s and Joann).
Buying things like this at places like these wasn’t wrong, and didn’t make them less effective for me, because they were just tools. And the best tools are the ones that are accessible to you – for some people, Hobby Lobby (or Walmart or Big Lots or Witches-R-Us) might be the only place around to get what they need.
Silas says, “There are times when we do find things that will fit in our world of magick that are worth purchasing. For instance, most of us are not blacksmiths and have no experience building an athame (knife). But we have to remember; let’s pass on that fancy plastic handle, and settle for that simple wooden or bone handled athame. Let’s etch that handle ourselves with images the Gods will adore.” That’s a great idea, and I wish that we all had a Diagon Alley to go shop at when we need stuff. For a lot of practitioners – especially newbies, who often are younger and have less disposable income than us veterans – that simple wooden or bone handled athame is just not in the realm of affordability.
As an example, when I first started practicing, I bought a very simple athame with a wooden handle – it’s of the variety you see in every single witchy shop, very basic and utilitarian, and probably cost me about $20. I’ve used that damn thing in thousands of workings over the decades, but about three years ago it just decided it had had enough. It was done. I did everything I could think of to recharge that puppy back up but it was all NEWWWWP and so it sat on my altar being more decorative than anything else. I’ve spent the past three years looking for a new athame – I found on online last summer that looked perfect for me, but turned out to be just plastic and chrome, so I returned it. I found one I kind of liked at the Renaissance Faire, but it was just too heavy and masculine and felt clunky in my hand. I thought about buying one made from a railroad spike, because I love those, but I just didn’t get around to doing it. And then this past weekend, I was at a festival, and the first vendor table I arrived at was selling hand-crafted athames.
My hand immediately gravitated towards one made of iron and applewood, and it practically hummed in my hand, saying “Haaaaay gurrrrl I’m yourrrrrs” and you’re damn right I bought it on the spot. Was it expensive? Sure – although I think I got a way better deal than I could have, because I’d have paid anything the guy was asking for it. But for a newbie young Pagan, throwing down the equivalent of three full tanks of gas isn’t an option when it comes to buying a single magical tool. On the other hand, if that newbie young Pagan finds a decorative knife they like at Hobby Lobby for $8, who am I to tell them not to use it?
The reality of it is that the tools you should be using are the ones that are available to you – and if that means you’re doing a bit of binding with some acrylic yarn you got on clearance at Hobby Lobby, or you’re crafting a witch jar with nails you found at Home Depot instead of hand-forged iron ones, then so be it. Our ancestors used roots and sticks and rocks because that was all they had. I promise I won’t judge you for where you got your stuff, as long as you know what you’re using it for and why. You do you, use your tools as you need to, and make your damn magic.
Note: The athame in the photo was hand-forged by the talented craftspeople at Artes & Craft in Hartford, Michigan.